Monday, July 2, 2012

What We Need

This "Do you need it now" thing is killing me. As it turns out, you need almost nothing "right now." Food, toilet paper, and tequila- these are the only things I've been able to get around my new standard. On the upside, we've cut our credit card bill down to 20% of what it was the first two months we lived here (moving/renovating is expensive) and 50% of what it used to be when I worked at the firm. So that's good. But I need door mats and rugs and the perfect piece of art for our living room wall I found at Target yesterday (yes, I buy most of my art at Target, but its all awesome). And that's just for the house. I also need new workout clothes for my new physically fit lifestyle and a few casual summer dresses because the one I just packed to wear at the lake house on Wednesday was bought for $10 at New York & Co in 2004 and a pedicure because apparently I suck at painting my own nails and an updated bikini wax because seriously. And the kids need a few new non-stained t-shirts and JP needs a new office chair because he's sitting in the one I bought for my first apartment in college in 2002 and its back is broken and the cheap polyester sweats under the skylight in the afternoon. But even though I/we need all of those things, when it comes down to it, we don't need a damn thing right now.

(Except maybe JP's office chair; that thing is terrible and I feel bad that he sits in it all day, but he won't even hear of buying another another one until his birthday in October because he never wants any family money to be spent on him but I don't care because I just talked myself into buying one for him anyway.)

So this new standard- it can't be maintained forever and it really would be nice to have such indulgences as a cheap rug to walk onto when you come in from our pool onto the tile, but it's a good experiment. We did buy Landon his birthday present, because even though he does not truly need a $50 Imaginext Batcave, he is turning 5 and has been talking about getting this Batcave with such patience and reverence and barely contained excitement since he saw one at his friend's house seven months ago. We have stopped by to visit said Batcave on every trip to Target and he lovingly runs his fingers over the packaging and says, "when I turn five, I really hope I get this Batcave" and then sighs and continues his walk down the aisle. I do the same thing in home goods. Also, wall decor. And shoes. I haven't bought a pair of shoes since well before I accepted the new job. It is amazing what bargains you don't need when you never set foot in a Marshall's, Ross, or TJ Maxx. And when your every web move is being tracked at work, there isn't any opportunity to discover a fabulous pair of heels that are in your size and totally on sale at But while I miss and the hours I used to spent perusing its wares, it was an easy sacrifice for nights and weekends with my kids and without a blackberry. I've never even undocked my work laptop. Unreal.

JP and I talk a lot about what we want for ourselves and for our kids- and not the sappy emotional stuff like love and laughter because, duh, but what stuff do we want? What fun and frivolous things do we think of as we work all week? Oh for now it's the mortgage, grad school loans, and kids' daycare, but hopefully someday when two of those three obligations are done (OH THE DAY!), what do we dream for our lives in 10 years? And for both of us it comes down to experiences. We have no need for a bigger or fancier house (though I will renovate the kitchen at some point) -- 2800 square feet is more than any family of four needs. I don't care about cars and there's no way the cars JP cares about will be within our financial reach in 10 years (or 20, 30, etc.). I enjoy pretty things but have no dreams of a closet filled with designer goods. No, for as long as I enjoy my work and don't feel the need to exercise the career flexibility I hope I'll have, it's experiences that we want. Vacations- fabulous fabulous vacations with our kids. I want to take them everywhere. I want to camp in the great National Parks of the US that my parents showed me (um, cabin camp, I'm not quite as brave as my parents). I want to revisit all the countries in Europe I've already toured, but I want to do it with my family. I want to take them to a beach so white with water so blue we will all lovingly mock our first family beach trip to the brown grey shoes of Galveston.

We probably still won't be able to do much of that in ten years, but our student loans will be fully paid off and our kids will be out of full-time daycare and even at our current salaries that will free up a nearly half of our monthly budget. Half. The simultaneous paying off of two professional degrees while paying for two kids' childcare is perhaps the best argument I never thought of for delaying the start of your family (not that I'd change a thing). Because in 5 years we should be able to save something to go somewhere every year. In 5 years the kids will remember those trips, just like I remember jumping rocks over raging rivers in Rocky Mountain National Park and sitting by a campfire with my parents and siblings on a bluff overlooking Lake Ouachita. I remember petting a bat held by a park ranger at Devil's Den in Arkansas and disconnecting our trailer in a Walmart parking lot so we could drive the van up the highest highway in the US to Estes Park for a day hike in the mountains. I remember my sister yelling out with a shocked "HEY!" as we were all swept up by a chair lift and she stood with her skis just outside of its path on our first ski trip. I remember so many things and I can't wait to make memories that my kids will remember too. We take vacations now too of course, fun and practical ones like the two-night trip we're planning to one of my favorite State Parks in August, but oh when my mind gets spinning on the "what I dream for one day" path, it puts us on a beach in the Caribbean or touring a castle in Switzerland. I hope we get there. It's far enough away that I don't have to care about how realistic it is, I can just dream, and in the mean time, focus on what we need.


  1. we have so much in common, it is such a pleasure to read your blog. on the office chair - i would go craigslist. set up a feed for "aeron", and get him a used aeron chair. they are amazing and worth it, at least at CL prices. did you read that NYT (or maybe it was WSJ) article about "experiences not things" making people happy? it's a good one, if hard to live by when you have a new house. good work keeping your bills low.

  2. My husband and I do the same thing. Our budget is SO TIGHT right now that it's depressing. But we sit here and talk about all the stuff we will do when we have money. We both want to get our pilot's licenses. I so look forward to that because then we will have a hobby that we can share!

  3. What a good attitude you have. As our oldest begins grad school in a city far away and our youngest heads off to college I've thought a lot about our family vacations. The golden years of parenting when you get to travel as a family. We've done those amazing trips of castles in Switzerland, white sand in the Caribbean, visiting Anne of Green Gables home on PEI and many more. These trips all came at the expense of putting our daily "wants" on hold but I don't think about the art I never had or the clothes that were worn beyond their time because the memories of our family trips are just that great.

  4. "We have no need for a bigger or fancier house . . . "

    Easy to say from a 2800 sq foot house with a pool, huh?

  5. @anon at 12:41 pm I think that was unnecessarily mean. and i actually think that no matter how much money you have, to be around people with more (i.e. most lawyers), can make you feel like you need more. fact of the matter is that LL gave up substantial salary when she switched jobs, and she's musing on the tradeoffs, and saying they are worth it. i dont think she has to say every time she muses about it, how fortunate she has been in many ways - because she also has worked really hard and has a very real, tangible trade-off to which to point.

  6. Interesting to hear you, and Lori above, talk about the value of family vacations. We always went to India to visit relatives. I don't really have memories of going on a real vacation with my family except for a few days in Disneyworld while visiting family friends, and an ill-fated trip to Mexico City with my parents during college. (I got sick and spent half the time in the hotel room while they went out.) JW, too, would spend weekends in the car driving to visit various family members, and would spend vacation days at his parent's house (well, converted trailer) up at the lake. We're continuing the latter pattern with our kids. Maybe we'll think about a real vacation with the kids when they're older.

  7. @CM - check out -

  8. Refreshing post. I really enjoyed it :)


  9. I 100% agree with this priority. Actually although we are considerably less well off than you guys we've managed a couple trips to Carribean beaches so far with our little ones. (We've been trying to do as much air travel as possible while we have fewer plane tickets to pruchase!)Vacations and experiences are where we spend all of our money and when I look back on what I remember and cherish about the past few years I know that has been the right choice.
    I'd add though that I think this ends up being more about time than money- even just making the decision to go camping on the weekend, or spend an extra day somewhere on a quick trip cna really lead to some great times and experiences.

    Interesting to read what CM posted, family vacations were a huge deal to me growing up and I'm sure that must have some impact on my choices for my own family.

  10. In my birth family, the joke was that we didn't take vacations, we moved. (And, well, we did.) :)

    Having grown up in genteel poverty, and having chosen to live it, I can say that the adjustment is hard, but it's been worth it. Not having a safety net is terrifying, but I did rethink my priorities. But I'm weak; I have to remove myself from temptations, like never walking by my favorite boutiques unless I can afford to buy something. (Because after a long deprivation, even spending just $50 on yourself is a huge deal.)

  11. If you feel like a budgetapalooza week, there's the $22 family one week grocery challenge. It might appeal to your sense of bargain-hunting, and also your competitive nature.

    The challenge is to spend no more than $22 on food for a family of 4 in a week (and it involves a lot of shopping your pantry - finding the tins of stuff you don't really need).

    Although, as you are a declutterer by nature, you may not have accumulated as much as some of us (cough).

    It's a one week challenge, designed for all of us who can't resist filling the trolley full of bargains at the supermarket, which sit in the pantry.

    You probably don't want to go down the uber couponing route (oh, the hours one can spend on the Mommy bargain hunting blogs, the once a month cooking pages, and so forth). Seriously, check out once a month cooking - it looks awesome.

    I do it on a little note by filling the freezer with little tupperware containers of beef stew, frozen vegies and mashed potatoes, and hey presto, a hot lunch at work!

  12. I came back to revisit this post and the comments... I remember JW and I once went to a time share presentation in Maine and the guy kept repeating that family vacations were one of his strongest "family values." That line about vacation being a "family value" became a shared joke for us. But reading this (and okay, I also Googled "is family vacation important") I guess the weird part, compared to others, is really that both of us grew up without thinking of vacation as a normal or regular occurrence. The memories and the opportunity to be together in a different setting sound good. But... I like spending our weekends with Grandma and Grandpa at the lake. Most of the time, I think I'd rather do that than be on a Swiss mountaintop or something. I do have very fond memories of a family vacation where we stayed in a beach house with both sets of grandparents and K took his first steps. But I think I'd have been just as happy if that took place at our house. Anyway, I will keep this family vacation idea in the back of my head.

  13. Hi Lag LIv,

    I am a new mommy and a new blogger and I enjoy reading your blog. I am heading back to work in about 3 1/2 weeks and I am feeling mixed emotions about leaving my baby. Your posts on balancing life as a working mom have been very helpful. Thank you!

    Katy at